Music notation

Introduction to music notation

If you are planning to take the examinations or intend to read, write and compose music, this tutorial explains some important concepts that will be of help. Writing music is easy, thanks to the many commercial and free applications that are available.


Learning Music Notation

Topics in this tutorial

This general discussion on music notation covers the following topics

The note pyramid 

In our example, the note pyramid, notes have been arranged by size (duration). The American name is given first followed by the British name. In our example the whole note is the longest note, while the thirty second note is the shortest note in the 'note pyramid'.
The American naming convention is much easier to understand because it uses fractions as names.

American name - British name
Whole note - Semibreve
Half note - Minim
Quarter note - Crochet
Eighth note - Quaver
Sixteenth note - Semiquaver
Thirty second note - Demisemiquaver
Sixty fourth note - Hemidemisemiquaver (will be discussed later)

In this discussion the American or British names will be used when referring to notes and rests. 

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Note values and names

The types of notes and their values are shown below. 

The Whole Note / Semibreve

The whole note is accompanied by its equivalent rest, called the whole note rest or semibreve rest.

The Half Note / Minim

The minim has half the value of the whole note, hence the name half note. The rest is named accordingly, half note rest / minim rest.

Quarter note / Crochet

The quarter note has one quarter the value of the whole note. The rest is named, crochet rest / quarter note rest.

Eighth note / Quaver

The eighth note is also know as the quaver and its rest is called the quaver rest or eight note rest.

Sixteenth note / Semiquaver

The sixteenth note ore semiquaver is one sixteenth of the whole note and its rest is the semiquaver rest or sixteenth note rest.

Thirtysecond  note / Demisemiquaver

The thirty second note is know as the demisemiquaver and its rest is known as the demisemiquaver rest or thirty second note rest.

The importance of note values in rhythm

While a melody is decorated with an elaborate array of pitches it requires rythm to complete it. Take a look at the 'Twinkle twinkle little star' piece below, and you will see how important the arrangement of the values of notes are. The pitch will determine the exact sound of the note in a melody. The duration of each note in the melody builds the overall rhythm.

In the video below, Line 1, sounds correct. Line 2, however, is not recognisable due to the fact that random note values were used. Line 2, demonstrates the destruction of the song's melody and rhythm through the use of incorrect note values. The correct grouping of notes in a score contributes to easy reading of the parts, especially when there is accompanying harmony.

Most software applications will auto arrange the score when composing to prevent a malformed rhythm but others don't. This feature helps to prevent poorly written score.

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Notes names for the treble, alto, tenor and bass clefs

The illustrations below include the note names for the four clefs, treble, alto, tenor, and bass clefs. Scores for instuments such as the violin, alto saxophone, and guitar are written on the treble celf. The viola uses the alto clef while music for the double bass is written on the bass clef. 

Accidentals in music notation

The sharp, flat, natural, double sharp and double flat are accidentals. A sharp raises a note by a semitone while a double sharp raises a note by two semitones. Similarly, the flat lowers a note by a semitone while a double flat lowers a note by two semitones.
The natural sign may be used to cancel a previously flattened or sharpened note. 

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